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Spring and Repotting Houseplants
by Barb Foster
by Barb Foster


Inspired to nuture, Barb Foster took up gardening over a decade ago. She has a particular passion for this areas hardy perennials.

Barb collects her own seeds, grows seedlings in a greenhouse and has 500 sq ft of growing beds plus numerous perennial flower beds in her Zone 1b garden in Chetwynd, B.C.

Barb writes weekly for the Chetwynd Echo.

April 4, 2004

Early spring as new growth is beginning to appear on your house plants is the ideal time to repot. Of course anytime that your house plants are showing distress you should consider repotting. Often newly purchased plants will need to be repotted. Over time the nutrients in soil will leach out with watering, the soil may become compacted or the roots will have simply out grown the pot. Soil that dries out quickly, roots protruding from the drainage holes, slow plant development are some of the signs that your plant may need to be repotted. Check the roots, place one hand over the top of the pot with fingers spread each side of the plant stem, with the other hand holding the pot, tip the pot upside down, tap the edge of the pot on a table edge, the root ball should slip out of the pot and you will be able to see if the roots are tightly coiled and matted, or 'root bound'. If the plant has become 'root bound' the plant probably needs to be repotted, however a few plants such as 'Ferns', and 'Agapanthus' prefer to be some what 'root bound', so those could be left a little longer in the same pot. Avoid traumatizing blooming plants or temperamental plants such as 'Ficus benjamina' with unnecessary repotting. If you would like to see it in a 'pretty pot', set pot and plant, into a larger more attractive one.

When you choose potting soil try to find one that is best suited to your plant. Potting soils usually contain varying amounts of peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, sand, loam, compost, leafmold, bonemeal, etc. The most important factor in choosing a soil mix is that it should be 'sterilized', and therefore should not contain pests or disease or live seed. Cacti, and other succulents need extra sand added (one part sand to one part potting mix). Dracaenas, Palms, and Citrus prefer (one part sand to three parts potting mix). Ferns need extra peat, bark, or leaf mold added to their soil. The soil mix should be slightly moist, dry soil mix may cause air pockets which can eventually kill the plant.

Pots should have good drainage, and be clean. New terra-cotta pots need to be pre-soaked. Choose a pot just one size larger than the present container, if the container is too large the plant will not be able to use up moisture quickly enough and root rot may occur.

Pot shards or pebbles can be placed in the bottom of the container to insure good drainage, be sure a pebble is not blocking the drainage hole. Landscape fabric, or fiberglass screening can be placed over the rock to prevent roots from blocking drainage.

Water the plant several hours before repotting. If the plant is difficult to remove from it's pot hit the bottom of the container with the base of your hand, or rap the rim and sides of the pot. As a last resort try a hammer to the side of the pot, to break the pot. Carefully loosen the roots, shake off old soil, and remove dead (black or mushy) roots. Place soil in the bottom of the new pot. Center the plant in the pot, there should be approximately 1/2 inch of space around the root ball which should be filled with potting mix. Tap the pot on the table to settle the soil. Fill to the same level as the plant was previously planted and with the soil level 1/2 to 1 inch below the rim of the pot, to allow for watering. Water to settle soil and clear air pockets. Do not leave potted plants sitting in water for more than a half hour. Place the plant in shade for about a week, as it begins to grow again move it back to it's original position, Cacti and other sun lovers, could go straight back into the light.

Usually newly repotted plants do not need to be fertilized for a few months.

Large plants need new soil even if you replant in the same container.

If you have cats place a few moth balls under the surface of the soil of potted plants, this should deter digging.



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